A Fish Friendly Facility for the ISS

First Posted: Jul 31, 2012 08:56 AM EDT

The Japanese Aerospace Agency (JAXA) has installed a fish tank on the International Space Station (ISS).  Though there is no recreation goal behind this new Aquatic Habitat (AQH) instead they will be used by the researchers to study the microgravity impacts on marine life.

The AQH was brought to ISS last week on an unmanned cargo vessel, along with other equipments and supplies. This high tech aquarium is specially designed to operate in a zero gravity environment, with little maintenance from the crew. Scientists will use the habitat to study small, freshwater fish on orbit. For the first investigations, they plan to examine the Medaka (Oryzias latipes) fish.

What NASA is going to do with fishes after their trip in space is unknown? But what the scientist intend to do in space is to look at the impacts of radiation, bone degradation, muscle atrophy, and developmental biology. The investigations could last up to 90 days.  The researchers are confident that this study may lead to a better understanding of related human health concerns here on Earth.

"We think studies on bone degradation mechanisms and muscle atrophy mechanisms are applicable to human health problems, especially for the aging society," said Nobuyoshi Fujimoto, associate senior engineer at JAXA's Space Environment Unitization Center.

The reason why researchers chose Medaka fish is because they are transparent that will make it easy to view the inner working of the organs. Also they breed quickly and easily in microgravity environments, enabling multi generation studies. . Researchers can take advantage of a variety of genetic modifications to these fish.

Scientists already have all of the Medaka genome identified, which makes it easier to recognize any alterations to the fishes' genes, due to factors like space radiation.

The habitat will reside in the Japanese Experiment Module, or JEM, which is also known as Kibo, or "hope" in Japanese. It will attach to a multipurpose small payload rack for power and housing. The AQH launched on July 20, with the third Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV cargo vehicle flight, also called Konotouri.

Aslo present in this is an improved water circulation system that monitors water conditions, removing waste and at the same time ensuring proper pressure and oxygen flow rate.

This habitat will provide automatic feeding for the fish, air-water interface, temperature control, and a specimen sampling mechanism. There will be two chambers for habitation, each sized at 15 by 7 by 7 cm, holding about 700 cc water and a stabilized area for oxygen that will enable fish to "peck" air. LED lights will simulate day and night cycles, while two video cameras record images of the fish to downlink to the ground, up on request.

 "In order to keep water quality in good condition for the health of the fish, we had to do many tests on the filtration system, especially the bacteria filter," said Fujimoto.

"The special bacteria filter purifies waste materials, such as ammonia, so that we can keep fish for up to 90 days. This capability will make it possible for egg-to-egg breeding aboard station, which means up to three generations may be born in orbit. This would be a first for fish in space."

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